End of an era: New York's Village Voice to shut print edition

The Village Voice, New York City's acclaimed left-leaning independent and liberal news weekly, is shuttering its print business, though the exact date of the last print edition has not yet been finalised, according to a spokeswoman.

The face of a generation of alternative news weeklies, known for its investigative journalism as well as its culture columns and outlandish classifieds, The Voice has found that its audience - and advertisers - no longer want to get their fingers smudged with print.

The newspaper advertising business "has moved online - and so has the Voice's audience, which expects us to do what we do not just once a week, but every day, across a range of media, from words and pictures to podcasts, video, and even other forms of print publishing", owner Peter Barbey said in a statement.

Founded in 1955 as one of the first alt-weeklies in the country, it's been home to a number of storied journalists and writers, including Hilton Als and the novelist Colson Whitehead, two Pulitzer Prize winners.

As The New York Times puts it, the pages of The Voice were a place to discover Jacques Derrida (guru of the deconstructionist school of literary criticism) or phone sex services, to hone one's antipathy to authority or gentrification, to score authoritative judgments about what was in the city's jazz clubs or off-Broadway theatres on a Wednesday night. In the latter part of the last century, before 'Sex and the City', it was where many New Yorkers learned to be New Yorkers.

Writers feuded with each other in the paper's letters column and in the offices. Readers were as opinionated as the writers. Marginal tastes in the arts or ideology flourished, often in language that readers armed only with graduate degrees could understand. No pun was too convoluted, no cross-cultural reference too obscure. One measure of the paper's contrarian vitality was the certitude with which diehard readers of any era could say exactly when its quality went downhill. For The Voice  devotees, the golden age was always the one just past.

But the printed paper was also an artifact of a downtown world that no longer exists. In recent years, many of the writers most associated with The Voice, including Wayne Barrett, Robert Christgau, Nat Hentoff and Michael Musto, have either died or been pushed out of the paper.

And the advent of Craigslist and many other online listing services pulled the rug out of the newspaper classified business. In 1996 the Voice switched to free distribution in an effort to boost circulation.

Barbey, whose family has owned The Reading Eagle newspaper in Pennsylvania for generations, purchased the paper from Voice Media Group in October 2015. In his statement, he noted that when The Voice  converted to a free weekly, ''Craigslist was in its infancy, Google and Facebook weren't yet glimmers in the eyes of their founders, and alternative weeklies - and newspapers everywhere - were still packed with classified advertising.''

This summer, The Voice redesigned its website and has since reported an increase in audience traffic.

''The most powerful thing about The Voice wasn't that it was printed on newsprint or that it came out every week,'' Barbey said. ''It was that The Village Voice was alive, and that it changed in step with and reflected the times and the ever-evolving world around it. I want The Village Voice brand to represent that for a new generation of people - and for generations to come.''

On Tuesday, Voice readers lamented the news on Twitter and Facebook. But in the Village itself, around the paper's Cooper Square offices, word of the print edition's demise was more often met with a shrug.

''You have Uber killing the taxi biz, are you going to lose sleep over The Village Voice? No,'' Paul Vezza, 60, the third generation owner of Astor Place Hairstylists, told NYT.

Vezza recalled a time when people used to come in for fresh copies of The Voice on publication day. These days a pile sits largely untouched every week, he said.

Alicia Johnson, 46, a chef from Brooklyn, sat on a bench outside the Village Voice offices, reading an article from another publication on her phone.

It had been a long time since she read anything in the physical or online Voice, but it remained a memorable part of her youth, she said. ''That's the iconic paper of this neighbourhood,'' she said. ''If you are a New Yorker you should know that, period.''

Johnson said she worried what would happen to the paper without its streetcorner red boxes. Without the boxes that contain the free papers, ''They're just a building right now.''